Listed on IMDb as a comedy drama, The End Of The Fxxxing World is a darkly comic coming-of-age tale with a major crime at the centre of the plot. It is also a twisted and cynical romance. The script is written by Charlie Covell, based on the graphic novel by Charles Forsman. Forsman is an American writer, from Pennsylvania. Covell is a British writer and longtime actress. You may have seen her in Siblings or Peep Show and most recently Marcella.
STORYWORLD OF THE END OF THE FXXXING WORLD
How to adapt an American story for British screen, filmed in Britain?
Jonathan’s idea was always to try and do Americana, British-style. So if you look at the way Lucy Tcherniak and Jonathan both shot it, there are lots of nods to American TV shows, hopefully, and American landscapes. So we were trying to find parts of the UK that didn’t look quintessentially British – we filmed the finale on the Isle of Sheppey, and so hopefully there’s a feeling of expanse like you’d get in the Midwest. I think it was almost trying to do a Fargo-take on Britain, so they move from suburbia to an English version of the Wild West.
Speaking of Americana, the audience is reminded periodically that this is ‘not a Hollywood movie’. Which is true — it’s a limited British TV series. The car isn’t going to blow up because it’s not a movie. Then it blows up. Both characters are informed by media they have consumed over the course of their lives. Alyssa’s behaviour is explained by her enthusiasm to watch the porn channel in the hotel room. She has no doubt been exposed to a lot of that. She’s seen a lot of crime shows (haven’t we all), and she calls upon her knowledge of crime fiction when deciding to clean the house after their murder. This gets around something all writers wrestle with — how to stop characters sounding like they’ve got their dialogue straight out of someone else’s crime fiction? One workaround, used here and also used in Thelma and Louise, is to acknowledge the fact that your new-to-the-life criminals probably did get their dialogue from elsewhere. Thelma repeats the souped up show-off dialogue of Brad Pitt’s character. Alyssa finds rubber gloves and bleach.
When Alyssa smashes her phone, this solves a big problem for contemporary writers, telling tales about people who would normally be fully contactable. This is fully in keeping with Alyssa’s character so it works. “I’m so glad I smashed my phone,” she says, later, reminding us that no one can easily find them. When we take technology away from our characters, the story immediately has a retro feel. This one feels almost like the 1970s or 1980s, especially with the style of Alyssa’s father’s jacket, and even the architecture of the house they break into.
The big question introduced in the pilot: Will James really murder Alyssa? If so, how? This question sustains the entire series.
The voice over technique affords novelistic advantages as we hear the thoughts of Alyssa and James, juxtaposed against how they are acting and what they are saying. Watching The End Of The Fxxxing World is like reading a novel which alternates point of view after each chapter. A film which uses a similar technique is About A Boy, also British. Sure enough, both The End Of The Fxxxing World and About A Boy are based on books which alternate points of view.
In line with the ‘Americana’ aims, The End Of The Fxxxing World is basically a Thelma and Louise plot with young adult main characters.
Two characters go on a road trip, each of them hoping to have some kind of fun. One of them in particular just wants something to change — anything. She needs some kind of awakening.
Both Thelma and Alyssa are escaping domestic violence.
An initial rape scene ends with the other killing the rapist, who has raped many times before.
This is just the first crime in a series of others.
There are stops in cheap hotels, and other characters along the way, who they foil.
The characters they meet are stereotypes, which make our heroes seem more human.
One of the cops on their trail feels great empathy for them, engendering empathy from the audience, too.
After their last big crime, Alyssa, like Thelma, declares that she’s never felt so alive, or more like herself. She’s finally found out who she really is.
The pair look set to ‘drive off a cliff together’ (try to motorboat across the channel with no supplies and no fresh water), though that would’ve been too faithful to Thelma and Louise, so they change it a bit.
People who have seen Bonnie and Clyde have said this is the millennial version of Bonnie and Clyde.
Road trip movies take the shape of mythic stories. These stories can feel episodic (and therefore lose narrative drive) because of all the different settings and characters encountered along the way. Modern audiences don’t have much time for episodic stories. So modern storytellers have to find ways to make their threads interweave. In Thelma and Louise, the Brad Pitt character keeps cropping up, for instance. In The End of the Fxxxing World:
Alyssa and James’s parents have never met, but they are eventually filmed sitting side by side on the couch. These characters come together rather than drift apart, lending cohesion.
There is plenty of conflict between Alyssa and James themselves. They spend part of the story each on their own. When they come back together, more cohesion.
It’s critical to have a definite end goal, even if they end up off track. This end goal has to be established early. (Alyssa’s father’s place.)
There is a parallel journey going on — in this series it is the cop duo, tracking them. Because they’re following the same mirrored journey, this gives narrative cohesion.
We therefore don’t mind that Alyssa and James briefly meet a number of temporary characters and spend every night somewhere else.
The writers of The End Of The Fxxxing World use a trick employed by Cormac McCarthy in No Country For Old Men. In this case not one but two unsympathetic characters are introduced. The girl is annoying but the boy is portrayed as psychopathic. Terrible though these people are, they suddenly seem relatively normal once they happen to break into the home of a serial murderer. Likewise, Walter White seems benign when compared to the experienced drug lord running Albuquerque.
Alyssa is not initially a likeable character, but she is is constantly fascinating. Like Lady Bird, she is far from perfect but she knows what she wants. She wants an adventure. She’s going to get her adventure even if she destroys her life in the process. (Alyssa is a more extreme version of Lady Bird of Greta Gerwig’s film.) Alyssa is a Thelma-character in some ways, but a Louise in others. By the end of the story she is a young Louise — we know she’ll be cynical and world wise now that she’s even seen through her Dad.
The character arc of James is imbued with comic darkness — he thinks he’s a psychopath. It turns out he’s not — his deadness inside has been a defence mechanism, which started the day he witnessed his mother drive into the pond. Through his relationship with the gregarious, assertive Alyssa, he learns that he is capable of feeling things after all. Tragically for him, he learns this lesson the moment he dies.
This series inverts a number of gender tropes.
When female characters break free they are very often required to sacrifice their lives the moment they achieve their aim, failing to break free at all. Thelma and Louise is a classic example of this. It’s so common it’s problematic, genderwise. Plenty of men are sacrificed in movies too, but not in this way. But this time James dies in a typically feminine way.
The cops are both women.
At the petrol station it’s a woman boss who is mistreating a male underling working in customer service, and who tries to play the hero by apprehending Alyssa.
Because Alyssa is so nihilistic in her own right, the show avoids turning her into some Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
In other ways, gender norms are not subverted. A disproportionate number of the male characters are perverts. James winds up sacrificing himself for a girl. Alyssa’s father is a stereotypical useless, uninvolved manchild.
The female cop duo are not in the original comic. One character has been split into two. This is interesting because in most paper to screen adaptations, characters are culled, not added. There is no romantic subplot for the cops in the comic. Their story mirrors the story of Alyssa and James, in a way. Neither is sure they really want to be with the other, but they are each drawn to the other anyhow, in a constant push and pull. The antagonistic relationship between the cops allows for dialogue about the themes: How much empathy and leniency do these kids deserve? Are they still kids?
James’s plan to kill Alyssa comes to an end after a few episodes. To be honest, this almost turned me off watching it. I don’t think I’d have continued had this plan continued longer. But when his plan is changed, he no longer has any plan at all. He’s basically a stunned mullet. It is Alyssa who comes up with all the plans from there on in. This is fairly common in a story with two main characters — one of them makes all the plans, the other goes along with them.
Alyssa’s father Leslie is a comical character — a tragic hippie trope. Portrayed as pretty dim, the joke at the end is that he’s not as dim as we thought he was — he knows enough to call the cops and get reward money. Jeff Kinney use’s Greg Heffley’s older brother in a similar way, setting him up as stupid, then rewarding the audience with the occasional ironic lightbulb moment where he seems pretty genius. Alyssa’s father is soon brought down again, because Alyssa is smarter by a long shot.
All of the Courage The Cowardly Dog episodes including Doctor Le Quack are set in a place called Nowhere. “Be quiet, Eustace,” says Muriel one morning, “you’ll wake the neighbours!”
This setting is perfect for western spoofs. Many of the Courage stories are horror spoofs but in Dr Le Quack we have the cartoon, child-friendly version of a wild western caper film.
GENRE OF DOCTOR LE QUACK
A caper story is a story in which the main characters pull off some kind of heist. (Also called a heist story.) A caper is a comic crime story. So, caper = crime + comedy.
Breaking Bad makes use of caper elements e.g. At the beginning of season five when Walt and Jesse rig up an explosion to wipe out an incriminating laptop in police storage, and earlier in the seasons when they steal the chemicals from the factory wearing woollen hats with pompoms.
Western Symbolism In Doctor Le Quack
Western symbolism can be seen in many of the Courage stories. Here we have the story opening with the rising sun at dawn. While this is not specific to the western genre, the sun has symbolic meaning in a western. Though it has been used countless times in western movies and novels, readers never seem to tire of the age-old symbol of the sun setting on the cowboy riding or walking off into the sunset. Quite a few picturebooks end with characters walking off into the sunset, too. Here we have dawn breaking over the desolate plain.
The sun can be a symbol of giving or taking life, depending on how it’s portrayed. The sun can break through and show brighter days, or it can be boiling hot and deadly if lost in the desert. Here, I don’t think it has any specific symbolic meaning. Along with the soundtrack and the big skies it is simply meant to convey the atmosphere of an old western film.
However, a rising sun in a story does indicate that this is going to be one eventful day, and that the events will conclude by the end of it.
STORY STRUCTURE OF DOCTOR LE QUACK
SHORTCOMING IN DOCTOR LE QUACK
Courage is cowardly. Nonetheless, he needs to save the day.
DESIRE IN DOCTOR LE QUACK
After Eustace accidentally hits Muriel on the head with a plank of wood Muriel loses her memory. Eustace takes this opportunity to get rid of the dog.
Amnesia comes easy in fiction. It is also conveniently specific. A taste of Applied Phlebotinum, a particularly shocking traumatic event, or even a simple Tap on the Head will be sufficient to make your character forget all about who or what they are.
— TV Tropes
He wants to get back into the house and do something for Muriel.
OPPONENT OF DOCTOR LE QUACK
Eustace is the first opponent but soon another comes along in the form of an evil French duck. As with the cajun fox last episode, this duck isn’t really French — he slaps on a French moustache which falls off later right before the main big struggle. I think the producers might do this because the same voice actor mimics a variety of different accents in parodic rather than realistic fashion.
First we see Le Duck’s lair. This is a Scrooge McDuck character, which of course comes from Dickens. His riches do not make him happy. He is collecting riches simply for the game of it, leaving bags of money just sitting around. He hasn’t even replaced his office chair, which looks as if it’s got a big bite out of it. This is a purely evil character motivated by power.
Then we see who is sitting on the other end of the computer.
PLAN IN DOCTOR LE QUACK
Courage has already gotten back into the house by first trying to swing in Tarzan style from a tree, then with a pole vault.
Eventually he gets in and via the Internet enlists the help of a doctor. Even the computer is anthropomorphised and has an evil personality of its own. These were the days when viewers were using the Internet for the first time and there was more mistrust than there is today.
Plans change when it becomes apparent that the visiting doctor meant to help Muriel is actually a quack who wants to raid the silverware drawer.
The duck’s plan is to
Knock Eustace on the head so he’s out for a while
Torture Muriel until she reveals where her piggybank is. He can’t find any treasure in the house.
This is where the heist spoof comes in. The duck sets up a toy train track and binds Muriel up in rope reminiscent of a scene in which a beautiful young woman is tied to the train tracks. Instead of using this quite sexualised trope, the writers of this children’s story modify it quite a bit — Muriel sits on a chair nearby and the toy train throws pies in her face.
This familiar scenario [chained to a railway] first appeared in the 1867 short story “Captain Tom’s Fright“, although a more rudimentary form of it was seen on stage in 1863 in the play The Engineer. However, it really entered the meme pool as a result of its inclusion in the 1867 play Under the Gaslight, by Augustin Daly. […] As bizarre (and horrible) as it may seem, this trope isTruth in Television. At least six people in the United States were killed between 1874 and 1910 as a result of being tied to railroad tracks.
— TV Tropes
The same trope is also used in games such as Red Dead Redemption.
Courage blows him up. When opponents are destroyed by Courage in this series it’s common for the opponent to say something understated like, “How annoying.” That’s what happens here. This feels a little meta. Why would the duck panic about being blown up? He’s a cartoon character who will bounce back to life before the next scene.
When this doesn’t work the duck disgusts her by holding a plate of smelly cheese right under her nose.
Next we see a huge, muscled rat with tats appear in the doorway. It first seems that he has been attracted by the cheese, but when Courage pays him off we see that this has been Courage’s plan all along. The common sequencing in this story is that something happens, we worry about Courage, then we see he planned it.
BIG STRUGGLE IN DOCTOR LE QUACK
The final big struggle involves a vacuum cleaner. The duck tries to suck Courage up. But instead he sucks up all the planks nailed across the doorway and the whole thing blows up in a huge explosion, reminiscent of the explosions often used in train heist stories to wreck parts of a railway line.
The policemen Courage has tried to summon turn up at this point and stomp all over Courage to get to the duck.
ANAGNORISIS IN DOCTOR LE QUACK
We learn that this duck is a wanted criminal.
NEW SITUATION IN DOCTOR LE QUACK
We think the duck is going to prison. “We’ve been looking for you!” say the policemen.
But the duck breaks free — we get a flash scene reminiscent of something out of No Country For Old Men — and says to the camera that we haven’t seen the last of him yet.
At first I wondered if the title “The Shadow Of Courage” were a riff on The Red Badge Of Courage but no — apart from the grammatical structure and perhaps some of the themes (of bravery vs cowardice) this plot line borrows little from the classic American novel.
Shadows who disentangle themselves from their bodies are a staple of horror, and especially, perhaps, of camp horror comedy.
STORYWORLD OF “SHADOW OF COURAGE”
Set in ‘Nowhere’, the moon in this particular story is even more important than usual. The very first image we see is of a huge moon. We see it again and again. The moon, we are lead to believe, has something to do with anthropomorphised shadows.
The house of Eustace and Muriel itself is a dream house, with the kitchen as a metonym for happiness (during the day and when Muriel is working away in it) but a terrifying prison by night. When Courage makes mischief after Eustace locks him in the attic, Eustace threatens that next he’ll be ‘sleeping with the termites’. This is a real threat because in the dream house there is only one place more terrifying than the attic, and that is the basement.
A trick sometimes utilised in graphic design is seen in the two images below, in which the shadow cast differs from the person/object casting the shadow. It’s generally used for ominous effect, but could also be comical. I use it in our picture book app Midnight Feast to show how the main character is angry at being sent back to bed.
In this story we have elements of
“The Boy Who Cried Wolf”
A psychological thriller, in which a character doubts his own sanity
Courage is terrified of the thunderstorm outside. He imagines a burglar breaking and entering.
Unfortunately for Courage, he first coaxes Eustace and Muriel out of bed by telling them (via transmogrification) that there is a burglar in the house. When it turns out there is no such burglar Eustace and Muriel are disinclined to believe him when a real baddie enters the house. That’s where The Boy Who Cries Wolfanalogy comes in.
He wants to save his family from the intruder, whatever it is. This is the same in every episode.
The opponent, as in the previous Courage story, is introduced to us first. At first we think the main opponent of this story might be the evil old man looking at the moon through his telescope. But he soon dies of a heart attack.
Here is the establishing shot of the aristocrat’s house. He lives all alone in a big, dark mansion. We know that no good comes to old people who live alone in massive houses.
You know that old, foreboding house up on the top of the hill, surrounded by thick forests, and accessible only by a single bridge that has a tendency to wash out during every rainstorm? Yeah, that one. Have you ever noticed that it always seems to attract eclectic groups of strangers who get invited for the reading of a will or a dinner party with a mysterious host? And why is it that the strangers keep getting killed off, one by one, during the night? It must be one of them doing it? But which?
Next, we think the opponent of this story might actually be the butler, who has just been fired and looks about to turn evil. In fact, the butler is just a McGuffin. We don’t wonder what happens to him after he throws down his napkin and runs off, free for the first time in 50 years.
We then see the dead aristocrat’s shadow morph into a shape on the wall, taking on a life of its own. This is the real opponent of this story.
The viewer is shown right away that this shadow is playful in nature. First it terrifies a little girl eating an ice cream.
After she runs away it terrifies the scoop of ice cream she has dropped on the ground, which wobbles in fright. As a show for little kids, it’s important to establish that the baddie is playful/hapless/ironic/quirky.
As usual, Eustace is another of Courage’s long-term opponents. Not least because it is Eustace who locks Courage in the attic.
Eustace takes great delight in scaring Courage for fun and criticising him for failing to be a real dog, which strikes me as a variation on fathers jibing their sons for failing to be a real man. Here he scares him, but when Muriel enters and whacks him on the head with a rolling pin he gets his comeuppance and the audience is pleased that justice has been served.
The worst thing that could happen to Courage right now happens — Eustace locks him in the attic all alone. From the third-floor window he can see the evil approaching.
He breaks out to tell Eustace and Muriel, which is always his first plan — taken, of course, from the nature of real dogs.
Although this series features a 1950s sensibility, Courage uses the Internet to find out how to defeat an evil shadow. This series was made in the early days of the Internet and the writers make a joke out of the way Google asks if you really mean such-and-such. It’s hard to remember now that this was ever novel.
There is an extended big struggle sequence as the evil shadow chases first Courage then Eustace around the house.
At one point Courage is hiding under the sink and Eustace in the fridge. We don’t know where Eustace is hiding until he emerges, which heightens the comedy. He has also lost his hat. Eustace’s baldness is also a source of amusement.
Eustace starts to doubt his own sanity, running around his own house chased by a shadow.
The Evil Shadow turns out to be a meek and mild character who has been held captive by his evil aristocrat for many years. He’s always wanted to work in show business and is really not evil at all.
For the short future, at least, Eustace and Courage are just a bit more afraid of shadows than they were before. When Muriel comes back to bed they first see her hair in curlers and are terrified once again.
In a scene reminiscent of E.T., the shadow flies into the sky because Courage has suggested he be the shadow of a star.
Since so much horribleness goes on in the real world, I’ve reached the age where I have no time for stories about men whose motivations are spurred by the torture and murder of women. I can enjoy a good crime series, but if the crime is going to be against women, I want to see a certain amount of female agency. Sometimes this agency comes from the victim/survivor herself; at other times the focus is on the women who work to solve the crimes.
In my middle age I am sick to death of stories such as True Detective, hailed as ‘dark masterpieces’ which are about the way men deal with the rapes and gruesome murders of women in their jobs, and with the nagging, unreasonable, one-dimensional wives and girlfriends in their real lives. Even a great show such as Breaking Badunwittingly, I believe, turns female characters into annoying, nagging sidekicks. (Vince Gilligan blamed the audience for hating Skyler; after watching that series three times I’m now sure there are things he could have done, or rather plot points he could have avoided, to make the female characters more empathetic, if that’s what he’d been going for.)
Crime writers who base their plots around the murder, rape and mutilation of female bodies need to be especially careful to go out of their way to present live women as rounded individuals. FFS, it should be part of the damn contract.
The following shows are not about the murder and rape of middle aged men. Far from it. There’s still that uncomfortable link between sex and violence in here, and crime drama isn’t for everyone.
If, like me, you would like to enjoy the suspense of a good crime show but you’d only sit through slightly more female-friendly crime, here are three series for your consideration.
THE FALL (Belfast)
A lot has been said about The Fall, which is what made me watch it in the first place.
This is a story comprising two short series, both available now on American Netflix. Gillian Anderson plays the SIO (Senior Investigation Officer) looking for a serial killer of women. From the start, the audience knows who the serial killer is. He is not the serial killer of the popular imagination. Gillian Anderson’s character has some great lines, which show she isn’t wearing the rose-tinted glasses; she knows sexism when she sees it and she calls it out. This is immensely satisfying. Needless to say, I really enjoyed it.
TOP OF THE LAKE (New Zealand)
Are you a Jane Campion fan? This is like watching a mash-up of The Piano (scenery-wise), Once Were Warriors (plot-wise) and Twin Peaks (creepiness-wise).
I predicted the outcome by episode three, but I think you’re supposed to. You’re certainly given enough clues. As I said, I’m not a crime fan, so a lot of viewers will probably work it out before I did.
Unfortunately I’m from New Zealand and Australia and Elisabeth Moss doesn’t do a fantastic job of the accent. You’d think they could find some decent local actresses, wouldn’t you? Then again, Elisabeth Moss would introduce this series to an American audience, thereby expanding it many times over. I guess this is how it works.
What makes it feminist? The drama is focused on Elisabeth Moss’s character, oftentimes on her relationship with her mother. There is also a community of battered women — a sort of cult, lead by an aged Holly Hunter — so it definitely passes the Bechdel Test. There are times, though, when I feel the scenes at the commune are unnecessarily comic. (Monkey? Did it have to be a monkey?) But that seems to be the nature of TV that’s made in my home country. Even the darkest stories inject these comic scenes which, to me, often feel out of sync with the vibe.
This show features more diversity than seems usual, too.
The thing that makes this a standout for a feminist audience is:
1. The drama focuses around the female police officer just as much as it focuses on the life of the male criminals.
2. Whereas in The Fall, everyone rushes around Gillian Anderson’s character because she is senior and because she needs to be listened to (also refreshing) this show very accurately depicts some of the problems with being a female working in a mostly male environment. Part of this police officer’s problems stem from the fact that she used to be a detective, but took a demotion for family reasons (also relatable to many women), and is struggling to work under people who have vocational deficiencies.
3. The main confidante of Lancashire’s character is her sister. (Cue: Bechdel.)
4. The main character is far from perfect. (Watching a martyr would be unrelatable.)
5. The characters on here are dealing with things that romanticised characters on similar shows manage to avoid, by dint of being super smart or super sexy or something. For example, the grandson is dyslexic. There is addiction in the family. There’s the family female friend dying of cancer in early middle age. There’s PTSD, which has a real effect on the main character’s behaviour. This is a level of realism that can only be achieved by understanding the real, everyday lives of women.
I absolutely loved Season One of Happy Valley and Season Two was just as good.
THE KILLING (Copenhagen or Seattle)
I watched the AMC version set in Seattle, but I have it on good authority that the Danish version upon which it is based is just as good if not better. (It should be more of a surprise that the American adaptation is as good as it is, I guess.)
This show is still about the murder of a young woman. Sex and violence are still linked at the grassroots level.
But to balance this we do have a rounded, interesting female detective. It’s been suggested Sarah Lund/Linden is aspie — an increasingly popular trope which has also been utilised in The Bridge and its offshoots, such as The Tunnel. When you think of these female cops, think of Doc Marten. These are women who are single-minded, smart, straight-talking and damaged by something that happened in the past, wary of people. It’s a satisfying character to watch, though I note with interest that characterisations of more typically female outworkings of autism level one are still very much lacking on TV.
Broadchurch is a TV murder mystery in which a village is a miniature for society. As one reviewer points out, “the death which happens at the beginning incites all sorts of unexpected human behaviour, with repercussions all around the town. Initially the show seems to be making the banal point that the residents of this bucolic town are not what they appear at first glance. But they are not what they appear at second glance either.”
Genre: Broadchurch takes the classic buddy detective template (she’s by the book, he plays by his own rules) and gives the procedural depth by showing the emotional aftermath of an unspeakable crime (drama).
Anagnorisis: This comes later in the series, no doubt. For now we see the set up. Ellie has compared herself to the more experienced Met guy and realised she may not have what it takes after all for the job she so wanted. She has probably overestimated her own abilities as a detective because she hasn’t been significantly challenged.
Ghost — Alec Hardy has a ghost which may or may not ever be revealed to us (it never was in Casablanca, in which we never really learn why the hero left America). But it’s only hinted at. (Later we’ll learn he’s hiding a serious health condition.) But Ellie on the other hand, has been living in a kind of paradise world, symbolised by her returning straight from holiday. In a paradise world, a ghost is not possible.
Ellie’s inciting incident: A friend of her son has been murdered. The inciting incident connects Ellie’s need with her desire: She needs recognition and she desires to help her friends to achieve justice by finding out the truth. This is a good place to put the inciting incident, because Ellie just thinks she’s had the worst day ever, not getting the job she wanted, but then that pales into insignificance when the murdered boy is found. This plunges her into the most harrowing career challenge of her life. (Another character asks if she’s ever done a murder case before — she says no.)
The town of Broadchurch in Wessex, England, is bracing itself for an annual influx of holiday tourists. This is a quaint village right next to the sea. The sort of place where even police officers can enjoy ice creams while in uniform.
A walk along a clifftop leads to a steep drop onto the beach, which is the scene of the crime, and sets up this town’s relationship to the sea:
The oceanic nature of the setting is echoed in the camera movement as the pilot episode opens. The very first shot is of a choppy ocean. Next we have a camera ‘swimming’ around the neighbourhood, zooming in on various houses, panning across rooms, as if all of this town is underground and we’re seeing it as a fish. The oceanic colour scheme is even used in Danny’s mother’s room, which is painted out in an oceanic theme. This colour blue is seen again in the grandmother’s shirt, in Danny’s lunchbox (which he is not there to collect.)
The fish movement camera is used again as Danny’s father walks along the main street. He’s talking about mundane things with friends and acquaintances, but the music tells us something terrible has happened. Who is following him? (Us.) Much use is made of juxtaposition, as his exchanges are cheerful and they’re talking about everyday things. We see a poster for the Broadchurch Fair, presumably a weekly, light, fun-filled event.
Broadchurch is an ‘snail under the leaf setting’. This village appears to be perfect, but the perfection is only skin deep. Below the surface, the world is actually corrupt, rotten, and enslaving. Everyone is desperate to put on a good face to hide a psychological or moral disaster.
Character desire is clearly established in the first episode.
Ellie Miller comes back from holiday giving out souvenirs when she is called into her boss’s office and told she hasn’t got ‘the job’. She wants a promotion from detective sergeant to detective inspector. The job has gone to a man. Ellie wants recognition and respect and career advancement. We know this from the very first scene. Compared to solving your first murder mystery, this is a fairly low-level goal, as initial desires should be. Psychological shortcoming: We get the sense that while Ellie may be ready for promotion in her small town, she is not sufficiently in control of her own emotions to do a good job. She needs to be paired with her opposite in order to learn. Ellie wishes to be called Ellie rather than Miller — a symbolic difference in how each detective approaches the job. Ellie can’t work without putting her personality into it. Ellie is a motherly figure, asking for ‘all the gossip’, giving out presents like stuffed toys and lipgloss.
Alec Hardy — Hardy’s reasons for relocation are kept from us for now, but we know that he has been shifted from the Met to avoid the consequences of some kind of scandal to do with a previous, high-profile murder case. Moral shortcoming: Hardy has no people skills whatsoever, bossing people around to get the job done. But the audience will forgive him for this, as he is very good at his job and cares deeply about finding the truth. No doubt Hardy and Miller will each learn from the other. Alec Hardy will be a fake-opponent, and we can see that from the beginning because his skills and shortcomings line up so nicely with those of Ellie.
Alec and Ellie are almost like the mirror image of each other. Normally in a set up the audience gets a very clear picture of the main character’s psychological shortcoming as well as their moral shortcoming, but here Ellie’s psychological shortcoming is highlighted whereas with Alec we get his moral shortcoming.
Beth Latimer — the murdered boy’s mother. We see her in her natural environment, getting her family off to school for the day — she wants her daughter to attend a school event even though the daughter is trying to pull a sickie. Then her desire changes suddenly when she is told her son hasn’t turned up at school (he was supposed to be spending the night somewhere else) and she is hellbent on finding out where he is. Then she is hellbent on finding out whose is the dead body on the beach. In follow-up episodes we can predict that she will be equally hell bent on finding out the truth. Beth is a bit of a ‘rule breaker’, jumping over the boundary police line in a panic over her son. (If a character can’t do that then, when?) The audience wants to see her do just that.
Olly Stevens is introduced in his work office — he is a young journalist who has just been turned down from the last of the big newspapers and now he’s stuck here in this tiny town working on non-event stories. Olly wants excitement, and he needs to prove himself somehow to get his foot in the door of a major paper. Moral shortcoming: He needs to start respecting other people’s privacy. He leaks the name of the murdered boy to the press even though his police officer aunt has told him not to.
Trendy young vicar — Moral shortcoming: using the death of a boy to spread the word of God.
Ally/Allies — Ellie’s main ally is a fake opponent, the new guy from the Met. Her husband is her emotional support. She is friends with people on the staff, though her boss has things she is not telling her, as evidenced by a secret conversation with Hardy while they eat ice cream on the pier.
Opponent — We don’t yet know who the main opponent is, but it looks like it’s going to be a web of people, including her own son, who deletes files from his C-drive as soon as his mother tells him his friend has been found dead. In the village we’ve also briefly met a creepy newsagent and a middle-aged misanthrope who is always lurking off to the side.
Mystery — Ellie must first uncover her opponents THEN defeat them. As far as she’s concerned, the whole town is on her side. In the detective genre there must be a mystery to compensate for the missing opponent because these stories deliberately withhold the opponent until the end. So we need something to replace it: the mystery of who murdered the boy. In a different genre, this would be when the opponent is introduced.
Fake-ally opponent — We have the strong sense that Ellie is not yet aware of the extent of hidden allegiances and deceptions going on in this town (helped with the symbolism of the sea). Her son may fit into this category, even if he’s too young and naive to be deliberately oppositional. Ellie’s boss may be a fake ally — in this genre the boss often ends up making things difficult for the spunky underling. Since fake-ally opponents are usually revealed after the main opponent (or mystery) has been revealed, we’re likely to find out what the allegiances and alliances really are in the next few episodes.
Reveals — Reveals are things the hero learns as the story progresses, and each reveal is supposed to be more significant than the last. Since this is a TV series there will be significant reveals much later on, but there will be minor reveals right the way through. Ellie’s first reveal: She hasn’t got the job of DI. But the guy from the Met who botched that other murder did get it, and she’s going to have to work with him. This is great, because the best reveals are about the main character’s opponent. Ellie’s second reveal: That the death of the boy is suspicious. Ellie’s decision: Her decision to solve the murder with her new boss will help her to gain the respect she craves, which means her new desire is a ‘bend’ of the original desire rather than a completely new one, which is perfect. (A river changing course.)
Plan — The new DI speaks clearly to the family and to the camera — he promises to find the killer. Ellie is along for the ride with him. There are bound to be problems along the way, with the audience wondering how these two can possibly solve such a difficult mystery. They’ll have to change strategy several times along the way.
Opponent’s plan — we already see the son hiding information that may be helpful to Ellie. But we don’t yet know what else is going on behind the scenes.
Drive — this will come in subsequent episodes. For now, Ellie is in reactive mode, looking stunned.
I enjoyed the 90s and early 00s references (which would now mostly go over the heads of a younger audience).
Fast-paced dialogue. I may have a high tolerance for dialogue-heavy stories. My husband says he doesn’t know how I can follow what they’re saying, even though he likes Reservoir Dogs. Apparently, he doesn’t catch a single word of Gilmore girls.
I most wanted to sit down in front of Gilmore Girls when I was feeling tired or had to do the ironing. On a particularly stressful day, I watched about three episodes in a row. Stepping into the world of Stars Hollow is like stepping into the world of Sylvanian Families, right down to the omnipresent kebab-shop fairy lights and small-town concerns, and the fact that even when the weather is ‘bad’ it is still really, really beautiful, Stars Hollow is pure fiction and therefore borders on cozy fantasy. Technically this is Arcadia, utopia — with more in common with The Wind In The Willows than with general TV dramas for adults. It should probably be considered suburban fantasy, because Stars Hollow is not really much like real life. For starters, there isn’t really much in the way of ethnic diversity. That’s not how I think of America, but then, almost entirely white towns with a token black Frenchman and token Asian families run by tiger-moms may well exist in Connecticut for all I know.
I believe many, if not most, women have comfort shows, and they tend to be repetitive shows about relationships. When I asked a large group of women to nominate their own virtual security blankets, the same shows were mentioned over and over again: Sex and the City,Gilmore Girls,Gossip Girl,How I Met Your Mother,Big Bang Theory,The Office,Brooklyn 99,Seinfeld, and, of course, Friends.
Clinical psychologist Marc Hekster believes that watching reruns of TV shows like Friends is particularly comforting because of the repetition and predictability.
“It’s about an experience of repair, of watching the characters in the show repeatedly having worries, which then get repaired and soothed, usually in the context of other relationships in their lives,” he told me. “It is soothing to see the same outcome every time and know you can depend on it.”
A GG fan writing for The AV Club has provided a full summary of the first two shows though, as ever, your best bet is by simply watching. Gilmore girls is available on iTunes, and costs less than a lot of other shows, at less than a dollar per episode. (It’s also on American Netflix right now.)
I do have some nagging concerns about this ostensibly feminist show. The first is my usual concern: That a (very) young audience doesn’t necessarily know what’s irony and what’s not. (By *young* — my daughter is seven.)
However, this is a show for adolescents. So lets take a look at messages they’re definitely absorbing, all over the place.
1. ANTI-HEALTH-FOOD MESSAGES
Look at it one way and you might conclude that Gilmore girls is a show which depicts a range of body sizes. Compare the Gilmore girls to Melissa McCarthy’s character, whose fat* presence in Hollywood is a constant reminder that anti-fat messages pervade modern culture, especially for women.
*Fat is the non-judgey word, so I’m using it.
But we should look a little further than that. I’m going to argue that Lorelai Gilmore is a strong candidate for an eating disorder not otherwise specified. In Season Six, after Rory moves into the tennis house, Emily says to Rory (partly in jest), ‘You’re not bulimic, are you?’. Rory shrugs it off as ridiculous but I had been wondering the same thing in earnest for quite some seasons by that stage.
An entire movement has popped up, in response to the horrible body-checking and anti-fat movement which women have been subjected to since forever sometime last century, depending on your culture. I happened across this inspirational poster on Pinterest and it pretty much sums up the culture I’m talking about:
This is certainly one way of dealing with the anti-fat, dubious health warnings we (and in particular, women) are subjected to every single day. I happen to think sugar and transfats are so harmful that our family actively avoids those things, and this informs my opinion, naturally. Turns out Alexis Bledel thinks along the same lines. In an interview she was asked about her diet, because women in the spotlight always are:
How often do you prepare your own meals? Almost every day. I try to eat very healthy, organic, local foods, so I do end up preparing my own meals more often than I go out. I prefer to go out for a drink because in that case you pretty much know what’s being poured into your glass, as opposed to what’s going into your food.
Western cultures everywhere have now got to a point in food history where eating nothing but fast food is about as funny as any other kind of addiction. I.e. not very. (Jezebel fairly recently asked if sugar is the next booze. I say yes.)
Lorelai Gilmore, the character, has responded to the anti-fat messages of the 80s and 90s by rebelling against her mother (who by the way, also can’t cook, but for classist reasons) and also against society in general. She takes bad eating to an extreme, and it forms the basis of a gag in pretty much every episode.
Lorelai does not keep food in the house, including good coffee, which is partly an excuse to visit Luke at the cafe, but nor does she know how to cook. Lorelai is your stereotypical flighty female who drinks too much coffee for her adrenal health, and prides herself on eating sugary food full of trans fats until she feels uncomfortably full, swaggering around clutching her gut, which never actually sticks out during filming, because the actor does not eat like that.
It’s time to move past this now. A fully functioning human being knows how to boil an egg, women included. Failing to learn the basics of cooking is about as cool as failing to wipe your own backside. It’s not a feminist statement anymore, to support the fast food industry by refusing to keep whole foods in the house. But there’s more to my gripe than that, because after all, Lorelai is an imperfect mother and deliberately written that way.
The bigger problem is that the bad eating habits of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore send an erroneous Maybelline-esque message to all the young women out there who think that looking like Lauren Graham in your thirties is a matter of genes and good luck:
Looking like Lauren Graham has nothing to do with luck, however, and everything to do with ‘being on a diet since the age of 11’. Does the actress who plays Lorelai Gilmore really eat like this? All I needed to do was google lauren graham diet and I got the answer I expected:
“One thing I’ve learned is I actually don’t like variety very much,” she told SELF. “I like having the same thing over and over: assorted lean proteins, arugula salad, quinoa or brown rice with soy sauce, olive oil, lemon and salt. Those ingredients can pretty much get me through the week.”
Since the age of 11, Parenthood‘s Lauren Graham has been watching what she eats. “I’ve been on a diet for 35 years,” the 46-year-old TV star reveals in the May issue of More.
The trope of the skinny girl who can eat anything she wants is common throughout YA literature.
She’s so small; I can’t help but wonder where she packs all the food away.
Resurrecting Sunshine, YA Novel by Lisa A. Koosis
Melissa McCarthy’s character, Sookie, has a far more healthy relationship with food, even if she is more prone to showing the outward signs of insulin resistance. She loves food, prepares it well and along with Jackson, who knows his fresh produce, is no doubt far less vitamin and mineral deficient than Lorelai and Rory.
Speaking of Maybelline, or makeup in general, we never once see any of the female characters without their maquillage. Emily, Lorelai, Rory and even the more down-to-earth Sookie are consistently depicted in full makeup, with not one scene taking place in front of a mirror in which said makeup is applied. There are occasionally scenes in which characters wear even more makeup than usual, such as when Rory sneaks out of her grandmother’s house to see Logan and hopes her grandmother doesn’t see her dark eyes and red lips, but let’s not be fooled into thinking that the less colourful faces of these actresses are somehow makeup free, even first thing in the morning. Perhaps in a town like Star’s Hollow it really is unheard of to spend waking hours without makeup (and also mornings in bed with male partners), but this whole thing smacks to me of another kind of beauty deception. I say this even though there is no place on the planet that looks more like a Sylvanian Families marketing shoot than Star’s Hollow, where everything looks perfect all the time, because honesty about female beauty is more important than ever.
In the first episode of Season Seven, Lorelai and Rory very uncharacteristically go to play ‘racquet ball’ (an easier version of squash?) but they don’t actually play — they sit on the floor and talk, like petulant teenage girls on strike during high school gym class. When two men walk into the room wanting to have an actual game, Lorelai tells them to go away — they’ve booked it for an hour.
As a fan of certain racquet sports, I find this behaviour extremely annoying. There are only a certain number of courts in the world, and people who don’t want to make actual sporting use of them should go home. To me, that scene feeds into stereotypes about girls and sport.
2. LACK OF AWARENESS OF THEIR OWN PRIVILEGE
I’m sure a lot has already been said about this: a story about rich white people living in the sort of fictional town which… well… really only exists in fiction. This is easy to criticise. I mean, in real life you don’t have a a busker creating music to the soundtrack of your very own internal dramas. In this sense, Gilmore girls is metafictive. The world does need way more stories about non-white people, granted. Should this be the show to do it? Probably not. The depictions of Lane’s Tiger Mom are stereo-typically Asian and we never do see Mrs Kim as a rounded character; she exists purely for entertainment. Ditto Michel Gerard, the concierge who works closely with Lorelai at the hotel. He is aloof and style-conscious in a stereo-typically French kind of way. This show isn’t about breaking into non-white subcultures.
What this show could do better, though, considering the age of its intended audience, is show some self-awareness of the privilege of its main cast.
For instance, there is an episode near the end of season one in which Lorelai takes Rory to taste test wedding cakes. It later emerges that she has no genuine interest in buying a wedding cake — she is only interested in sampling all the different flavours, for free. This isn’t said, but she’s doing this at the small-business owner’s expense. So although Lorelai Gilmore ran away from her privilege, finding it more stifling than helpful, she has the looks and the breeding and the skin-colour to fit neatly into a secure and fairly well-paid job at the hotel, and although the audience is reminded regularly that this was through Lorelai’s own sheer hard graft, in the real world, there was more to it than that. Lorelai Gilmore has the right accent and the right looks for running an inn, and no amount of hard graft is going to help many, many more women around the world working as hotel cleaners work their way into management by their early thirties.
The wedding cake taste-testing incident shows that Lorelai Gilmore lacks the moral compass to steers decent folk away from taking advantage of someone else’s time, even if that someone is a seemingly unimportant middle-aged woman who works in a wedding-cake shop.
In season five, episode fourteen, Rory borrows Logan’s limo and chauffeur to make an emergency trip to Stars Hollow. Upon returning the vehicle, she informs Logan that she ‘fed Frank a sandwich’, as in ‘I filled your car with petrol,’ or ‘I fed your monkey some nuts’. Did I need to mention that Frank is black?
Naturally, for those who watch further, the audience sees repercussions for privilege. Logan is indeed a problematic person whose own bad manners and gilded cage cause him grief. For the younger members of an audience, it’s perhaps worth pointing out the obvious.
That’s also why it’s important to keep watching until Season Six, where the theme of privilege and excess comes to a head. It feels at this point that all of what has come before has been in the sole aid of exploring what it means to be white and young and bright and pretty.
On the topic of Rory’s dropping out of Yale, I feel this failed somewhat in the narrative sense. It was too sudden. After watching five entire seasons of the strong-willed, kind, ever-sensible Rory Gilmore breeze through difficult social situations, offering wit and wisdom to her classmates, to suggest that the comments of one man could derail the plans she’s had for her entire life is not believable. In order for me to believe this of Rory, I needed to see more build-up. I needed to see increasing frustration with her life at Yale. I needed her to perhaps see through the bullshit privileged environment she found herself in. But no, Rory is mysteriously allured by Logan. I wonder if a younger audience has a problem with this love story. I find it unbelievable that a girl like Rory, who has seen both privilege and near-poverty (apparently) in her own family situations, would fall for Logan.
When Rory and Logan steal a yacht (at Rory’s suggestion) the idea of privilege is consciously explored when the judge expresses disgust at rich white kids using the world as their private playground, thereby increasing the number of community service Rory is required do. I feel a sense of unease that Rory’s misdemeanor raises her status among Logan’s friends, who throw a huge party in her criminal honour, each one of them dressing up in stripes. (Not far enough from the underprivileged version of ‘black face’, I feel.) When the camera is on Rory at her community service, the glossy cinematography of Stars Hollow doesn’t fit at all; nothing of the underclass is evident even though she is surrounded by those less privileged than herself. She is soon ordering the others around and they are (completely unbelievably) doing just as she tells them to do. Has she learnt anything at all from this experience? More importantly, has the young viewer?
In Season Six, even the privilege of Paris Geller is challenged after the tax office catches up with her parents. Paris becomes temporarily impoverished, which leads her to seek work in a kitchen at one of Rory’s events with the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution), during which Marx suddenly makes complete sense to her. This article reminded me of that scene.
3. MODELLING OF BAD MANNERS
When main characters do bad things, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, the age of the Mary-Sue is over. I find it admirable that Rory Gilmore is written to be an excellent role-model who gets into three top universities through sheer diligence, and demonstrates her intelligence regularly by offering balanced commentary which is wise beyond her years. Such kids do exist. It’s hard to write a character like Rory Gilmore without fans eventually growing to hate her. Rory makes just enough mistakes.
The older Gilmore girls are a different matter. Emily Gilmore (as well as Richard Gilmore — by season four) are monstrous creatures, and I say this even though Emily Gilmore is strangely likeable, or perhaps just nice to watch. In a show designed for a tween audience, that’s okay, because at no stage is the audience invited to identify with either of the grandparent characters. The show is unquestionably about Lorelai and Rory.
But when Lorelai demonstrates bad manners and these bad manners go either unchecked or rewarded, this is another issue. The reason I consider this important is because Lorelai Gilmore is so obviously written to be a role model for viewers of adolescent age: a young, hip, fast-talking mum of the kind that exists in fantasy — the kind who is a teenage daughter’s best buddy. If you’re in any doubt about the power of a character such as Lorelai Gilmore, read this from a twenty-five year old fan of Gilmore Girls who has only more recently come to understand the character’s many shortcomings:
The show became a part of my identity, and also something sacred. A biblical text.
1. Lorelai Gilmore talks loudly and incessantly through every town meeting, every speech and even throughout someone’s funeral. Although she gets shushed quite often, this is always by a pesky old man character. Lorelai giggles and keeps on doing this. It reminds me of assemblies at a girls’ high school.
2. Lorelai’s ability to manipulate men with flirtatiousness. During another funeral procession, Lorelai rushes up to the family member who has inherited a building and asks if she can buy it. Carrying the coffin, he asks if they might discuss it later. Lorelai ignores his request and continues to harass the man. In the gets what the building she wanted, she and Sookie open their inn, and because this has been a longterm goal that the audience has been invited into caring about, to the viewer it seems she has got what she wanted because she was pushy and inconsiderate. I suppose this is a real-estate lesson in its own right. It’s also one you might want to discuss with your young co-viewer.
3. Lorelai does not respect Luke’s ‘no’. A stunningly uncomfortable example of this happens at the beginning of Season Four, as Lorelai sets Rory up at Yale. Since Lorelai is overly-interfering in her daughter’s life (something so obvious I don’t need to go on about it at length here) that she insists Rory get a new mattress. Lorelai has arranged to borrow Luke’s utility van but Luke has said to get it back to him by a certain time, because he needs it. Of course there are mattress related dramas at Yale, and Lorelai ends up bringing home a second-hand mattress… late. Not only has she returned Luke’s vehicle later than he wanted, but she tries to get him to store the old mattress. Throughout that episode the perennially grumpy Luke continues to say no to Lorelai, and Lorelai continues with her pouty, ditzy act that attractive women of child-bearing age can often get away with, playing on the sexual tension that runs between Lorelai and Luke from the pilot episode. It might be worth explaining to a young viewer that good relationships happen when each partner respects the other. If you’re friends (or proto-lovers) with someone and you keep saying no and somehow you end up doing the thing you said no to, over and over again, that ain’t a good relationship. Saying no should be normal.
4. Lorelai actually doesn’t know when to shut-up. This is a big part of her quirky personality, and it’s part of what makes the scripting of Gilmore girls unique. But most of the time the audience is encouraged to find Lorelai’s outbursts cute rather than downright inappropriate. Let it not be said that Americans don’t do irony; Lorelai Gilmore has sarcasm in spades. At times Lorelai says what we all wish we could say, and at other times I feel the audience is invited to be complicit in a bitchy comment (about AV geeks, about someone’s clothing choice, about Kirk in particular) and I’m not sure a young audience is encouraged by the show itself to know the difference.
Though the AD/HD population is diverse and is not linked to ‘bad manners’, I think Lorelai Gilmore is an excellent fictional candidate for AD/HD. For many reasons, not least this one.
4. STOCK CHARACTERS WHO SIMPLIFY REAL LIFE ISSUES
What you get from Gilmore girls is a cast of hyperbolic characters. Every one of them has a stand out characteristic which makes them unique (though there is a disproportionate number of characters with OCD type quirks). The trick in drama, even in comedy drama, is to transcend the stock characters. Do characters like Paris really do this?
On screen fiction tends to tell the stories of the outward signs of OCD but more seldom gets into the darker, internal side of obsessive compulsive thoughts. Perhaps this is a failing of the screen compared to the novel. The difference is summarised here by Jody Michael.
Below we have the three girls most significant at Rory’s high school. When I first saw these characters, on Rory’s first day at Chilton, I was a little disappointed. First we have the overdone ‘mean girl’ — Paris, who does get more interesting as the series progresses. Paris is also a great example of a perfectionist who is so hell-bent on getting what she wants she ends up sabotaging her efforts. A lot of super-bright girls surely find themselves in a similar position. As a case study, Paris is fascinating.
The other two (Louise and Madeline) are ditzy rich girls who go boy-crazy after graduation. If this were a slightly more nuanced show, the relationships between these girls could have been written in a far more interesting way. Might tweens have got more out of Rory’s relationships with these three had the interactions been as nuanced as, say, the relationship between Lorelai and Luke, or Lorelai and Rory, or Lorelai and Emily? Instead, these relationships provide nothing more than a jump-off point into a range of bullying related issues, but the show itself does not offer the nuance; that’s up to the viewer. In real life, bullies do not always stand out a mile. Bullies are not always pretty. Most kids are bullies at least some of the time (including Rory, I might add, when she speaks disparagingly to the AV Guy). Bullying changes shape in senior high school. In this story, the overt nastiness typical of junior high school relationships continues through to the end of these girls’ time at Chilton. This doesn’t ring true.
5. A SHOW WITH FEMALE PROTAGONISTS ISN’T NECESSARILY ALL THAT ACCEPTING OF WOMEN
In one of the earlier seasons, Luke is disgusted by a woman breastfeeding her baby in his cafe. Sure, Luke is disgusted by all sorts of things: children in general and mobile phones in particular. This makes for an interesting plot line when it turns out he has a 12 year old daughter. But the joking way in which Lorelai and Rory react to Luke’s disgust make them borderline complicit. Since there is plenty feminist of discrimination of women breastfeeding in public, anyone au fait with the disconnect between utility and the fetishization of the female breast may well feel uncomfortable with this particular scene.
In episode two of season five Lorelai makes disparaging comments about attending a venue full of women who had not shaved their legs. In Gilmore World, absences of grooming go punished. In the same episode, Lyndsay’s mother approaches Rory in the street and accuses Rory of being a homewrecker. At no point in that same episode is it said that it was not Rory who was married, and therefore Dean’s own fault for breaking up his own marriage.
By the way, there are a lot of jokes about prostitution.
I mention this not because I want to shield my daughter from knowing anything about the darker side of life, but because I don’t want my daughter to think, in a superior fashion, that being a ‘whore’ is somehow the best of all insults. That’s a long story, but suffice to say, using whore as an insult is not a very kind thing to do in a world where human trafficking is a huge problem, where lots of countries don’t look after their women and girls, and where the demand for female prostitution is as strong as it ever was in a world where we like to think women make ‘bad choices’.
Explain that one to a tween. Because all she’ll see is that ‘whore’ is an insult. Along with ‘slut’, and similar, with the flip-side being that virginity is a special prize.
To sum this issue up, this show is about women and contains a lot of feminist messages, but feminism has evolved a little since the mid 2000s.
To follow from the previous point, if you’re after ‘traditional’ for your tween daughter, this is what you get from Gilmore girls. What you may not get is ‘healthy’ and ‘progressive’.
Everybody’s scared of teenage girls, especially when they have sex. That’s well-known. “I’ve got the good girl,” Lorelai says to herself after over-hearing Rory admit to Paris that she never had sex with Dean. The implicit message is that Paris is the ‘bad girl’ for having sex with a boy… in her final year of high school.
What they are talking about is p-in-v sex, we presume. Until the end of season four, we only ever see Rory kissing, and I think it’s worth mentioning that we only see Rory kissing awkwardly. Alexis Bledel manages wordy scripts with ease, but where she does not shine as an actor is in any scene that requires intense emotion. She always looks supremely uncomfortable with her boyfriends. This makes me wonder about the ethics of asking young actors to perform in this way. The discomfort is so palpable that I wonder about the message: If Rory doesn’t seem to be really, truly enjoying the physical intimacy with her boyfriend, but has boyfriends anyway, are teenagers of high school age nevertheless obliged to make these relationships, even if they are bookish types?
The seasons get slightly more adult in theme as the viewers themselves grow up. When Rory loses her virginity (off-screen), the post-coital scene with Dean is as awkward as any ever were. The Event of Virginity Loss is a big plot point in any story for this audience, but I’d like to see a cultural shift in focus. Why was the break-up of Dean’s marriage resting upon the stretching of Rory’s hymen? Why wasn’t the marriage considered over before that, when it was clear that Rory and Dean had a close emotional connection? Something to discuss with young viewers is the murky definition of ‘cheating’ and ‘affairs’. How much weight do we as a culture heap upon simple physical acts? Is ‘virginity’ really that important? What counts as sex? Bill Clinton started that big conversation. I hope progressive culture has moved a little since Gilmore girls first aired, and that this storyline will continue to date badly. By Season Six, this emphasis on purity is questioned when Emily and Richard arrange for their Reverend to give Rory a talk about saving her ‘gift’ for one special man. Rory handles this with aplomb. (This is another reason why it’s important to watch Season Six.)
Rory’s third sexual partner is Logan. Gilmore girls continues to keep any actual sex off-screen, to the point where adult viewers might feel the relationship between Luke and Lorelai a little weird (though I can imagine it was a little weird for the actors, too, working with each other for several seasons before having to pretend intimacy. I don’t think I’d like to have to do sex scenes with a guy I’d been working with for four years.)
On the topic of Logan and Rory, it happens in Rory’s room at Yale. This scene could be the catalyst of an important conversation about consent with your adolescent daughter. Because as things between the two characters heat up, Logan says to Rory something along the lines of, ‘If you want me to leave, you’d better tell me now.’
This line is used a lot in fiction, and because of that, I’m guessing it’s used a lot in real life, too. (Robert Kincaid says it to Francesca in The Bridges of Madison County, for example.)
A problem with this sentence, when used by one partner to indicate that (or ask if) sex is about to happen, is that it suggests an uncomfortable subtext. When Logan says this to Rory, it sounds a lot like, ‘If you don’t want sex then you’d better tell me to stop now, because I’m about to get so caught up in the heat of it that I won’t be able to stop at any point between now and completion, so if you don’t want the full menu, tell me to leave now.’ That is an ultimatum of sorts.
But actually it doesn’t work like that, does it. In fact, boys are fully capable of controlling themselves (if they want to), and a girl can negotiate from the full range of possibilities; sex is not an all-or-nothing proposition. When a boy (or a girl) says ‘If you don’t want this, tell me to leave now,’ it can sound creepily manipulative.
Making women the sexual gatekeepers and telling men they just can’t help themselves not only drives home the point that women’s sexuality is unnatural, but also sets up a disturbing dynamic in which women are expected to be responsible for men’s sexual behaviour.
A nineteen-year-old university student in Washington, D.C., after being drugged and sodomized in 2007, was denied treatment at local hospitals because she “appeared intoxicated” — not so surprising, given the nature of her attack. Even when the teen went to the police for help, she was turned away. Sergeant Ronald Reid, of the Metropolitan Police Department Sexual Assault Unit, was quoted as saying, “If we don’t have reason to believe a crime happened, we wouldn’t administer a rape kit.”
A year earlier, in Maryland, a state court ruled that once a woman consents to sex, she can’t change her mind. Not if it hurts, not if her partner has become violent, not if she simply wants to stop. If she says yes once, nothing that happens afterward is rape.
The Maryland law that a woman can’t change her mind once she consents to sex was actually based on a case from 1980, which defined rape based on common law that considers women property (that’s right–sadly, as recently as twenty-nine years ago, women were still considered the property of their husband or father). In this context, “rape” actually just means the initial “deflowering” of a woman; in fact, the injured party in a rape isn’t even the woman–it’s her father or husband. The decision notes that any act following penetration–the “initial infringement upon the responsible male’s interest in a woman’s sexual and reproductive function”–can’t constitute rape because “the damage is done” and the woman can never be “re-flowered.”
from The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti
Other aspects of the sexual side of relationships are explored to a certain extent, and viewers will each make their own minds up about that. Rory experiments with an open relationship but when Logan decides he doesn’t want this, Rory is happy to drop everything for him.
Lorelai sleeps with Christopher after her second break-up with Luke, as a way to confirm to herself that her relationship with Luke is over. As a consequence she ends up using Christopher, and conveys to a young audience that this is one way of ending a relationship for good. Oh, and Luke storms round to Christopher’s house and sucker punches him. In real life, this can kill. (In Australia, the media now uses the term ‘coward punch’, after one such incident led to the death of a young man.)
Is it a teenage girl’s fantasy to have boys fight over her in this fashion? Should it be? Lorelai to Luke in the middle of the street: ‘Next time you get a hankering to punch someone’s lights out, take your anger out on me. I’m the one who deserved it.’ (I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean physically, but nor was it clear that she didn’t.)
7. PRODUCT PLACEMENT AND CONSUMERISM IN GILMORE GIRLS
As the seasons progress, we see more and more product placement (or perhaps I just never noticed it in the first few seasons). I wonder how much Birkin paid for the episode in Season Six where Logan buys Rory a Birkin Bag. This is a bag which Emily has wanted her entire life. It’s talked about, a lot.
In an earlier episode (Season Five, Episode 20), there is a scene before the opening credits in which Rory and Lorelai each watch their robot vacuum cleaners. Rory is at Yale and Lorelai is in Star’s Hollow. They are sharing a moment. This is probably the scene which smacks most strongly of product placement. It feels just like an advertisement for robot vacuum cleaners. (We don’t see them again.)
Like almost everything ever, we also see Rory working on an Apple laptop in her room at Yale. I wonder if someone on the set wanted a new Apple laptop that week?
I don’t think product placement is in itself a huge problem, and if you’ve made the decision to watch TV, you’re probably highly aware of it. But it’s something I would point out to a young viewer as part of media literacy.
The consumerism of the Gilmore girls, on the other hand, is over-the-top. When Lorelai orders fast food she orders enough for a football team (or perhaps a TV camera crew?). When the Gilmore girls go shopping they really go shopping. This would be realistic enough, I guess, if Lorelai were not a hotel manager, which would certainly pay enough to live a comfortable lifestyle (at least in this country) but not enough to waste money on ice-creams in winter before deciding it’s too cold for ice-cream and dumping it straight into the bin. Throwing food and goods out on a whim is a luxury most of the world does not have. And even if they did hypothetically have it, the environment cannot sustain that attitude towards material items.
Then there’s the unresolved issue of Lorelai’s borrowing a significant sum of money from Luke when she opens her own inn. Are we to assume she has paid it back before we see her jump straight back in to her wasteful spending? After breaking up with Luke (again) she throws out everything that reminds her of Luke, including a waffle maker because Luke made waffles. We never find out if she has paid Luke back.
8. ON THE SORE TOPIC OF SEASON SEVEN
I’d been prepped on this because The Internet does not collectively approve of season seven. A ‘truly stale Pop Tart’, even.This is the season that Sherman-Palladino did not write. Fans of the show saw a distinct change in tone and didn’t like how the plot progressed.
But since I’d basically been hate watching the first six seasons, I wondered if I might suddenly like the seventh? How’s that for logic?
I immediately detected a change in tone. When Kirk ploughs into the side of Luke’s diner, Rory’s retelling of the incident to Lorelai shows an uncharacteristic lack of empathy for Luke, who inherited the building from his father. Likewise, it’s not like Rory to be reflecting nauseatingly about what Logan’s gift of a rocket meeeeans for their relationship. The pre-season-seven Rory Gilmore would not have pretended to know its significance when her absent boyfriend calls to ask if she ‘got it’ (the rocket and the joke). This is especially infuriating after six seasons (almost — apart from her reason for taking a break from Yale, which was also out of character) of Rory Gilmore being the level-headed, wise one.
Do the new writers really get the character? Even her dialogue sounds a bit more ‘Valley Girl’ (as it’s apparently known), with more ‘likes’ and ‘I mean’s and various hedge phrases. Why? Why do this, when the fast-paced witty dialogue is really the thing that makes this show standout from various others on the Disney channel? This was especially obvious in Rory’s first scene in episode two of this season, as she complains to Lorelai about how much she wanted to travel the world (presumably on her boyfriend’s money), but her rich boyfriend doesn’t want to see her until Christmas. Rory even says ‘Oh yay’ and ‘Nutso!’ to which Lorelai responds ironically ‘Spoken like a true grown-up’. I sense from this counter dialogue that the writers are aware of what they’re doing to Rory, but they’re doing it anyway. After a while the dialogue seemed to regain its usual tone, but perhaps I just readjusted my expectations. For a while it seemed as if Luke’s daughter April had become ‘the new Rory’.
As for Lorelai, I’m convinced the season seven writers don’t think much of this character, because Lorelai Gilmore’s faults seem magnified, somehow. She talks all the way through a lecture on Einstein’s theory of relativity at Yale University’s parents’ weekend. She’s not talking about astrophysics, by the way, but complaining that Emily has attended even though she’s not a parent but a grandparent. Earlier that day we saw Lorelai prepare for her trip to France by listening to a Teach-Yourself-French CD. Instead of attempting the actual French, she thinks it’s hilarious to speak the English in a mock-French accent, which I’m sure the French will think hilarious. By this point it’s cringeworthy. The writers could have done something more clever such as have Lorelai make a genuine mistake, or crack a French pun — after all, the character of Lorelai Gilmore is supposedly very smart.
HOWEVER. Honestly, Amy Sherman-Palladino, the writer who left at the end of season six, left season six in a mess. It was a difficult job for the writers of season seven to claw the plot back ‘on track’, and although the final episode was predictable, I felt that it tied everything up nicely. There was no ‘rescued by a rich boy’ kind of happy ending, and I have to admit I had been dreading that possibility.
SO IS GILMORE GIRLS ANY GOOD? QUALITY-WISE?
The characters are exaggerations and the non-white characters are caricatures.
Small-town life is equally caricatured, and nothing important ever seems to happen without the whole town assembling, or pressing their noses against a window (quite literally, at one point in Luke’s Diner). In other words, if it doesn’t happen in front of an audience, it doesn’t have the same gravity. This is a narcissistic show.
On that point, the actors always look as if they’re performing on a stage. This is part of the style, and is partly due to the fast-talking, but can be annoying if naturalistic is your thing.
The usual cheap tricks of long-running sitcoms are employed. It annoyed me that they used the very same actress (who you may even recognise from Twin Peaks) to play two different characters.
Some scenes are definitely tighter than others. There’s no real suspense — this is coziness itself — and the cliff-hanger at the end of each season is of average intensity, usually revolving around relationship conflict. This elevates the role of the Gilmore girls’ relationships with men to an important plane, despite being outwardly a show about mothers and daughters and female friendships.
If you watch the episodes too close together, Lorelai’s relationship cycle is extremely irritating. PICK A MAN, ALREADY. OR DON’T. JUST DON’T.
For a younger audience:
There’s something very calm and embracing about the atmosphere of Stars Hollow and surrounds. This is pure, unthinking escapism. In that regard, Gilmore girls works, and it would also work for girls whose lives are far less stable and privileged than that of Rory Gilmore. It’s nice to pretend that we are Rory Gilmore, insofar as that leap is possible. The coziness might well have the opposite effect, of reinforcing to a girl in the opposite of Rory’s position just how lucky other people can be.
Rory Gilmore is a fairly rare character in that she is a smart, feminine girl who the audience sees actually studying. She doesn’t magically come up with all the answers behind the scenes, playing sidekick to two boys. Rory makes certain things cool: coffee, flowing dresses and reading for pleasure. Throughout seven seasons, Rory is shown reading a wide variety of books. Here’s the Rory Gilmore reading list. This show might even prompt a non-reading fan to pick up some of these books. (I’ve only read 27 of them, but I aim to read many more before I’m dead.)
Gilmore Girls And Third Wave Feminism from Candice, points out that Sooki St James was originally intended to be lesbian but networks weren’t ready. Also, Luke was originally a woman but notes came back that there needed to be ‘more testosterone’. Also more on the topic of lack of diversity.
The pilot episode of Black Books is called “Cooking The Books”.
One thing Cooking The Books does really well is introducing the audience very quickly to the three main characters (all of them transcending stock characters, though based on stock), and weaving them together for gags at the climax. When broken down, we can see that each of the story strands indeed has the seven basic steps of a complete narrative. Indeed, even the minor characters, the Mormons, have their own complete storyline.
Psychological need: He’s terrible with numbers and has no patience to learn how to do his own taxes.
Moral need:He’s horrible to people, and as an example, doesn’t even know his own mother’s name.
Psychological need: She is a bit clueless and probably a drunk. For example, she’s ordered something to sell but has no idea what it is.
Moral need: Self-centred, she plans to get drunk while her friend gives birth ‘so that it can be like the good old days’. She has no desire to actually help the friend. She sells ‘a lot of wank’ to her customers.
Psychological need: Manny is highly-strung to the extreme, and can’t control his cortisol levels.
Moral need: He isn’t doing his job properly even though he’s being paid to do it. He is petty and in order to get out of a situation he’s been ‘caught out’ in he’ll continue to elaborate on the lie. (A common feature of comedy characters.)
Psychological need: They’re out proselytising but they have no idea what they’re really supposed to be saying.
Moral need: They push the word of god onto people even if they don’t want to hear it. (The audience knows this moral need already — it doesn’t need to be set up by the show.)
Bernard wants to get his taxes done so he doesn’t get in trouble with the tax department.
Fran wants to find out what the big round thing is that has arrived in her shop and which she has to sell in great numbers.
Manny wants to do as little work as possible while remaining calm. In order to do this he needs a ‘The Little Book Of Calm’ at arm’s length so that he can refer to it at any time.
The Mormons wish to convert Bernard to Mormonism, or something (they’re not really sure — what they really want to do is go door to door knocking, then onto the next one, as they’ve obviously been told).
Bernard’s opponents are ironic. Normally people are annoyed by Mormons knocking on the door, but Bernard welcomes the distraction because he is in the middle of his taxes and has already paired all his socks. Bernard wants to get his legs broken, so the thugs who eventually beat him up are unwittingly doing him a favour. Bernard’s real opponent is the tax office, unseen by the audience.
Fran doesn’t have a clear, single opponent in this episode, unless it’s her friend giving birth, which will be standing in the way of her partying from here on in.
Manny’s opponent is his immediate boss, who expects him to do work, which he can’t/won’t do.
The Mormons’ opponent is Bernard, who is a sort of ‘secret enemy ally’ — his only motivation is to procrastinate over his taxes but he gives them the impression he’s interested in hearing all about Jesus.
The main source of comedy in this episode is that Bernard’s initial, sensible plan does not work. His subsequent ideas get more and more ridiculous. In fact, this is the format of the entire show. As TV Tropes explains:
Black Books relied on A Simple Plan for pretty much all of its plots. The characters would decide to go to a party, or do their taxes, or write a children’s book, or something, and would more or less use this as a springboard for a lot of bizarre and/or appalling behaviour, until they eventually failed, or at best broke even.
Bernard plans to get his dodgy accountant to do his tax but this can’t happen, first because Bernard’s book keeping skills are terrible and second because the police come for the accountant while Bernard is sitting in his office. So he is forced to change his plan: He decides he’ll read all the instructions and do his tax himself. But he doesn’t know the most basic information about himself (e.g. His mother’s first name, let alone her maiden name), and he can’t understand the instructions. He welcomes any distraction. Finally, he reads a bit where he can delay filling out his tax form if he can prove he’s been sick/injured, so he plans to get his legs broken. He’ll swap this favour for a free book. But this plan doesn’t work even after he’s set it up because the man who has agreed to break his legs realises at the last second that he has in fact read this book and doesn’t want it anymore. So next, Bernard plans to start a fight with some thugs.
Fran’s plan is to ask everyone she comes across what they think the lighter thing is. Fran’s plot line is a mystery, of sorts.
Manny’s plan is to buy a copy of The Little Book Of Calm and read it while looking like he’s working but actually eating chunky soup at his desk. This plan goes wrong when he accidentally drinks the little book when it falls into the soup. For the rest of the episode he wanders round in a Jesus-like state spouting advice from the book.
The Mormons plan to come back later, after Bernard is finished being drunk, and work on their conversion then.
Bernard’s big struggleground is the fight between him and the thugs, which he picks deliberately. This is your classic ‘big struggle scene’.
Fran’s big struggleground should be the birthing room but she is instead having her own big struggle — rushing up to a customer and demanding to know what the round thing is. The scenes are similar in their levels of desperation. When another customer suggests the ball looks like ‘a fake breast that dads wear’, Fran is suddenly reminded of where she’s supposed to be.
Manny’s big struggleground is also with the thugs, until Bernard intervenes.
We don’t see the Mormons’ big struggle, but we do see Bernard drunk and saying goodbye to them, so we can assume this is their big struggleground. The looks on their faces show that they are rather taken aback by whatever has just preceded the arrival of our camera.
Bernard works out that the Jesus figure who he has woken up to is an accountant. He realises he can just get him to do his accounts (and also ask him for a wine and a sandwich with a pickle.)
Fran works out that the ball thing is a lighter when she sees Manny using it.
Manny’s ‘anagnorisis’ comes in the form of cheese lines spouted out of The Little Book Of Calm which he has literally swallowed… and absorbed into his system.
When Manny opens the door of Black Books looking like Jesus, the Mormons run away.
7. New Situation
Bernard has a friend who is going to do his books for him.
Fran has a best friend who now has a baby (and are they still best friends, since she forgot to turn up for the birth?)
Manny is a much calmer version of his former himself, and has a new friend in Bernard.
The Mormons presumably they think Manny is the second coming or something — we know they won’t be back — not by choice, anyway!
Irony in this episode
Irony is the ‘meaningful gap between expectation and outcome’.
Presentation Irony: This is when the audience is used to the tropes of a particular genre but the story throws us off course. The audience expects Mormons to be experts on all things biblical. But ironically, Bernard actually knows more about Jesus than the Mormons do. This is ironic on multiple levels: Because he knows nothing at all about taxes, even though that’s his business — no one in this show knows how to do their job properly — they’re all complete misfits. The other irony is that we expect people who know about Jesus to behave in a ‘Christian like manner’, and Bernard is basically a cynical misanthrope.
Opposite Outcome Irony: This episode has several instances of this kind of irony. Lemons become lemonade when the skinheads turn up outside Bernard’s shop, because he was just aiming to cut off his own wrist with an electric kitchen knife after trying desperately to persuade someone to break his legs for him. Also, when Manny almost dies from swallowing a book he absorbs its messages into his system and turns into a Jesus-like figure.
Surprising means to an end: “Oh come on Bernard, you’d really have to cripple yourself. You’re hardly going to do that just to avoid doing your accounts,” Fran says, the voice of reason. The look on Bernard’s face tells us that’s exactly the sort of thing he would do.
I like stories. Reality TV, which we all know is not reality . . . I see greater truth in fiction than in that false reality . . . A criticism against television is you’re not using your imagination because it’s handing it all to you. Oh, really? How often do you keep thinking about this stuff later on, imagining where else the story might have gone or where it’s going? . . . You’re imagining the subsequent seasons of Firefly.